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Miami VA Healthcare System

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Veteran Realizes Dream Come True

Man smiles on hand cycle before a race

Veteran Raul Acosta smiles before a race at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Orlando, Florida.

By Melanie L. Thomas, MBA, Public Affairs Specialist
Thursday, August 30, 2018

Complications after being injured at Camp Lejeune and diagnosed with cancer led to an inevitable amputation for Marine Corps Veteran Raul Acosta. But, that hasn’t stopped him from realizing his dream of cycling again.

“Competing in hand cycling at the 2018 National Veterans Wheelchair Games has empowered me to accomplish things I thought I could never do again,” Acosta said. “The support I’ve been given from staff has really made this experience one I’ll never forget."

Samanda Vasquez, physical therapist and facilitator of the Adaptive Sports Program at the Miami VA Healthcare System, works with Veterans to tailor individual plans that accommodate their specific physical ability level.

“We really work hard to alleviate any challenges that get in a Veteran’s way of participating in adaptive sports,” Vasquez said. “This past year, Raul was determined to participate in the Adaptive Winter Sports Clinic and the 2018 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Through nutrition education, constant monitoring of his diet and overall management of his health care, we were able to assist him with losing over 60 pounds and in realizing his goals.”

Regular participation in an Adaptive Sports program provides Veterans with resources to monitor and troubleshoot health-related issues before they may become serious.

“We are able to fix, make adjustments, reassess them, and get Veterans what they need, quicker," said Alex Maitre, recreation therapist at the Miami VA. "This helps us to minimize their risk of additional injury, skin breakdowns, and even hospital readmission.”

Acosta attributes his increase in energy level, overall health improvement, and enhancement of his quality of life to being involved in adaptive sports and competing in the Games.

“Eight years ago, was really a turning point for me," Acosta said. "My first year here I saw that if my comrades could work through their challenges, then I could too. After all, what do I really have to complain about?”

The annual Games provide therapists with a way to encourage Veterans to pursue activities they once enjoyed.

“As a therapist, I utilize the Games as a tool to help motivate the Veterans I work with," Maitre said. "It’s efficient. Because whether the Veteran is faced with social, emotional, or physical issues, they are able to work towards a goal of competing in an adaptive sport. Overall, the program helps us to fine tune their rehabilitation needs and increase their quality of life."

To learn more about adaptive sports and the 2018 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, please visit:


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